Early in May, just two months out from the end of chemotherapy, I found myself in the care of another kind of doctor, the radiation oncologist.
Of the two specialists that I consulted, I chose to be treated by the doc who planned to use a narrower radiation beam on a smaller target, namely, the suture line at the top of the bladder. He believed that I would glean as great a benefit with this approach, versus another doctor's more aggressive plan. Even better news, he and my medical oncologist agreed that I could skip the chemotherapy. I'm not sure why they decided this, but I didn't question it.
I showed up at the radiation center for a simulation appointment. Here's how I described it in the blast-o-gram:
Sent: Friday, May 9, 2014 11:28 AM
... Simulation is where they attempt to align a body to the machine in such a way that it will be repeatable throughout the course of treatment. They used a marvel of biomedical technology to make a mold of my legs from the knees down. It looked and felt like an ordinary pillow to me, but through some magic it was transformed into a rock-hard, solid casting of my legs. That was where the fun stopped.
Next came tattoos. First, the nurses drew targets on me with markers. They apparently changed their minds at least once, because they drew way more targets than they needed. haha. Once they were happy with the targets, the nurse said, "Prepare yourself, but don't move. I'll be quick." She then stabbed me with a gigantic needle in three locations. It was surprisingly painful!
Now, I am a marked woman.
I ended up having eighteen radiation treatments, for a grand total of 4,281 cGy (cGy=centiGrays, a measure of the dose of radiation). Every weekday, I'd drive to the clinic. To save time, I'd arrive "scan-ready", which meant that I was wearing clothing with no metal in or on it. Because of this, I could skip changing into a hospital gown and proceed straight to the waiting room. When it was my turn, I'd hop up onto the moveable table, settle my legs into their form-fitting castings, and lie still while the techs aligned my body to the machine. My three tattoos were lined up with beams projected by the huge radiation-delivering machine. Over the next four minutes or so, I would lie still as the giant metal machine rotated all around the narrow metal table, shooting radiation at me from various angles.
I experienced very few side-effects, and only towards the final treatments. Getting to the clinic for so many days in a row was tedious, but hardly anything to complain about. By the end of treatment, my car practically drove itself there. I found myself on the path to the radiation clinic more than once after treatment ended (I blamed the car).
I would coast along during that summer, catching my boys up on the lessons we had missed due to my chemo appointments in the previous months. My memory was horrible. I found that I could no longer compute my sixth grade son's math problems in my head. I couldn't do spelling very well, either. Everything I needed to remember had to be written down or it was lost forever. I hoped and longed for the day when my brain would revert back to its former ability. I think I'm close now, though I discover gaps now and then.
At this time my fingers were still numb, and my feet too. I still couldn't button things. I couldn't tell if things like laundry were wet or dry. I even needed help to put in earrings. Nevertheless, I was thrilled to be finished with treatment.
The summer went by too fast, and unfortunately, September brought with it--as it had the previous year--some dire news.